"We Dissent: Talking Back to the Rehnquist Court"


Law School Professor Michael Avery is editor of and a contributor to the newly released book WE DISSENT: Talking back to the Rehnquist Court – Eight Cases That Subverted Civil Liberties and Civil Rights.

The lawyers and legal commentators who contributed to WE DISSENT unanimously agree that during Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s 19-year tenure, the Supreme Court failed to adequately protect civil liberties and civil rights.

The book reexamines eight cases, with contributors offering dissents to the court’s decisions.

Government interests prevail

The critiques in WE DISSENT suggest that the Rehnquist Court placed the interests of government above the people and strayed far from constitutional ideals when it abandoned its commitment to the protection of the individual rights of Americans.

Each chapter focuses on a different case – ranging from torture to search and seizure, from racial profiling to the freedom of political expression – with contributors summarizing the case and the decision, then offering their own dissent to the majority opinion.

“We have long been plagued with an ultra-conservative Supreme Court, and it is refreshing to find this collection of dissenting views, astute and bold, from constitutional scholars," wrote Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present. "This book is a veritable course in constitutional law and an important contribution to the national debate on the rights of citizens.”

Alternative points of view

For some cases featured in the book, the Court’s majority decisions were unanimous, so readers can see here for the first time what a dissent might have looked like. In other cases, contributors offer alternative dissents to the minority opinion, thereby widening the scope of opposition to key civil liberties decisions made by the Rehnquist Court.

Taken together, the dissents in this unique book address the pressing issue of constitutional protection of individual freedom and present a vision of constitutional law in the United States that differs considerably from the recent jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court. This vision takes seriously a commitment to democratic values, social justice, and racial equality and insists upon governmental accountability to our citizens and others protected by the Constitution.


In addition to Avery, the contributors are Erwin Chemerinsky, Marjorie Cohn, Tracey Maclin, Eva Paterson, Jamin Raskin, David Rudovsky, Susan Kiyomi Serrano, and Abbe Smith.

Avery is a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. He was a civil rights and criminal defense lawyer for nearly 30 years before joining the Suffolk Law School faculty in 1998. He is co-author of Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation and Handbook of Massachusetts Evidence.

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Mariellen Norris